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Pacific Northwest - Settlement

Pacific Coast No other coastline, except for the polar areas, was explored by Europeans as late as was the North Pacific Coast. Vitus Bering had claimed the Alaska coast for Russia by 1740, but it was not until 1778 that Captain James Cook sailed the coast from Oregon to southeastern Alaska. By the time explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark worked their way across the Cascades to the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805, Philadelphia and New York City, each with about 75,000 people, were vying for the title of the country's largest city. By the mid-1840s, when American settlers began traveling the Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley, New York's population was fast approaching 500,000.

The pre-European population of the region was relatively large. The moderate environment provided a plentiful supply of food throughout the year. Deer, berries, roots, shellfish, and especially salmon represented a natural bonanza of food that seemed without limit. The American Indians responded to this with a hunting and gathering economy, and no food crop cultivation.

Concentrated along the coast, they were divided into many distinct ethnic groups, each occupying their own, often small, coastal valley. They constructed large, impressive houses of red cedar planks and went to sea in dugout canoes made of the same wood. Along most of this coast, the Indians seemed simply to melt away when Europeans arrived. Because their extreme isolation made organized opposition impossible, each small tribe succumbed quietly, making little impact on European settlement. Today, few Indians remain in the south. Farther north, the Indian population remains a substantial ethnic group in the Panhandle of Alaska.

Russians were the first Europeans to establish permanent settlements along the coast. They came late in the 18th century, motivated by the search for easily extracted riches. These riches proved to be furs, and the Russians established a series of trading posts and missions that were concentrated in southeastern Alaska but that extended as far south as northern California. The outposts never became self-sufficient in foodstuffs, and the cost of maintaining these scattered, distant sites usually exceeded the income from fur sales.

Following several earlier Russian attempts to sell the colony to the United States to keep it out of the hands of the British, a $7.2 million sale price was finally agreed upon in 1867. The Hudson's Bay Company moved its fur-trading operations into the Columbia River basin early in the 19th century. It was the dominant influence in the Pacific Northwest until the late 1830s, when American missionaries and settlers began the long journey across the Oregon Trail from Missouri. Most new American settlers moved into the Willamette Valley, but they quickly outnumbered the small British population of the entire Northwest.

The railroads were of key importance in the eventual growth of Oregon and Washington. In 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed to Seattle and was followed a decade later by the Great Northern. This ended the region's overwhelming dependence on oceanic shipment, which sailed via the southern tip of South America to the eastern United States and European markets. Today, this land of the great outdoors, like nearly every other part of the United States, has an urban population. Both Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, have metropolitan area populations of more than 1 million people.

Seattle has been the largest city along the North Pacific Coast since the boom era of the late 19th century. Founded as a logging center, Seattle began to achieve regional dominance when it was linked to the transcontinental railroads. The city has been the home of the Boeing (aircraft) Company since the 1920s, and it has been called the world's largest company town. Other of the city's 3,500 manufacturers produce cement, clay, fishing supplies, flour, metal products, textiles, and food products. Seattle's urban core is tucked onto a narrow isthmus bordered by Puget Sound on the west and Lake Washington on the east. It has a beautiful site, with views of mountains and water offered to the residents of its many hills and pleasant, scattered neighborhoods of tree-lined streets.

Portland is an old city by the standards of the region, new by most others. Its economy is more diversified than Seattle's, and its relations with the region's interior are closer because of the lowland routeway to the east provided by the valley of the Columbia River. Portland is a major transshipment point for grain from eastern Washington, for example, and wood products and food processing are principal activities of the local manufacturing economy. Portland, inland about 160 kilometers from the coast, nevertheless rivals Seattle as an ocean port because the lower Columbia River is navigable.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:00 ZULU